Sunday, January 14, 2007

The life of the half Thai (Luk keung)

My son Dylan is fourteen months old in a couple of days. He's at that stage where a new skill is being found everyday. Climbing, building blocks, you name it. One thing that I have noticed is his baby speech. Most Thai babies at this age already showing signs of babbling in the up and down pitch of the Thai language, Dylan however mixes the pitches with the rambling sounds of the English accent.

I know what you're thinking: "Over enthusiastic dad" , I thought so too but several other people have noticed his speech patterns. I'm hoping Dylan has taken the first tentative step towards becoming a bi-lingual luk keung.

Dylan is actually half English, quarter Chinese and quarter Thai, but for all cultural intents and purposes he is a luk keung.

"Luk Keung" literally translated means "child half" , since Thais put the noun before the adjective. That may sound less than equalitarian but it's simply a Thai trait. Thais will say what they see. I'm "farang lek " ("small foreigner") and others will be "ouan" ("fat") and so on. The idea behind such blunt phrases is to put people at ease, not leaving them to wonder what they think of you.

Despite the tag, luk keungs have an enviable position amongst Thai society. With a combination of white skin (considered attractive) , bi - lingual abilities and, usually a reasonably well off family, the half Thais are often a privileged bunch. Such qualities have put many of them into show business, often in TV shows or in the music industry like the half American, half Thai Tata Young.

Not all are so privileged of course. A second school of popular thought says that many other luk keungs are less fortunate. The idea being that many foreign men impregnate woman and then run out. Whilst many people propagate this idea, in my four years here I've only known two sure cases of this happening. Still the fact remains that multitudinous luk keungs are indeed just "typical" kids rather than the social elite.

As world travel and international marriages increase, the number of luk keungs has risen. Alongside the increasing numbers, a taxing problem seems to be arising. Ex-pat forums and discussion sites have a slew of concerned parents expressing alarm at their luk keung child's behaviour. The popular line of distress seems to be that the constant adoration and attention inside and outside school is negatively affecting the young luk keung psyche. Boys in particular seem to be developing signs of arrogance and unruly behaviour from a very tender age. My favourite report was from one parent who stated "People swarm him [my son] all the time. Just last week one guy told him he was the most handsome kid he had ever seen and literally gave him the sunglasses off his face".

Different parents are lining up different solutions to the problem. One colleague of mine plans to take his son to school in Australia for four years since "Aussies don't let the trees grow too tall". Other parents simply enforce stronger discipline at home, others still seem content to let it ride and hope the child will grow out of it.

I must confess I don't have my game plan ready yet. I do believe though that a father's influence can greatly affect a child's attitude to others. And while others may be looking for their white skinned child to be a model or TV star, I have my own rosy eyed dream for Dylan. I'd like him to follow in the footsteps of Mechai Viravaidya.

Mechai was born in 1941, the son of a Scottish mother and Thai father in an era before interracial marriages were so popular. He recalls that at the age of seven he was on a shopping trip with his mum when she went to help an elderly lady cross the street. His mum told him: "If people with education and wealth don't help the poor, who will?". Meechai went to study in Australia where he learned " be humble. If you think you're important in Thailand, you're nobody there."

Meechai returned to found the Cabbages and Condoms chain as part of his highly successful project to reduce AIDS and increase education on sexual diseases. He also became a senator and told the press ".......corruption is now airborne like dust. The senate should be impartial but only about twenty five percent are. We're wasting the people's time".

Undoubtedly Meechai has faced discrimination in his work. The Thais are a fiercely partisan bunch and some of the lesser educated parts of society are suggestible to any "He's not even a real Thai!" propaganda from a rival politician.

Yeh I know, it's easy to be romantic about your child when they're still in nappies. But hey, that's my right as a dad and I do believe that with the right moral values, Dylan can eventually become a philanthropist and however difficult and thankless it may seem, take a stand against the greed, patronage, embezzlement and selfish behaviour of some of the people running such a wonderful country.

Either that or play up front for Southampton FC anyway.


Thailand Gal said...

I hope your dream for Dylan becomes reality, too. We need more philanthropists, less who operate from purely self-interest, regardless of their national heritage. (I'd hate to see that mindset take strong hold in Thailand.)

You captured my interest with your comment about Australia's "don't let the tree grow too tall". We could use more of that in the US.

Thanks for your blog. It's a good one. :)



Fon said...

Hello, Nice to meet you. I'm going to be a mom and my baby is half Thai-English. I can't wait to see my baby.

Merry Chrismas & Happy New Year ^^

Linepigen said...

Ah... There are several luk kreungs in my family, myself among them. We were all raised in Denmark where the Jante Law keeps people fairly humble, however, one advise I would give you is to make sure there's discipline when you raise your son.

We all thought our mothers were unreasonable strict in our upbringings, but in retro perspective, it was good.

We knew who we were, what we were, what we did, and why we did it. And we always knew we were loved.

I've seen many others (luk kreungs as well as non-luk kreungs) go all crazy when reaching their teens because of lack of it.

Anyway, just my two cents. :) Good luck with everything and congratulations on your journey into parenthood!


Bert said...

Good Blog. I am half Thai half english. I grew up in thailand but have lived in england for the past 12 years. I feel english however which makes me feel sad as I've always considered myself Thai. Not English. Your blog is the first I've read about half Thai people and everything you wrote is so true it makes me feel good as I felt alone, that no-one understood what it's like to be a half of a race. Thank you for writing this.

Forever live 'The land of Smiles'

Bert From Aylesbury, UK.

Catarina said...

I appreciated finding this blog. As a Thai-American living in the US, I would like to hear this inter-cultural perspective. I have to half Thai children myself.

Nate turner said...

Hey there word up to all half thai half white, I'm half scotch, irish, little bit of english, german and I guess native american and the thai side has 15% our so chinese and my skin is golden apple that glows cause my dad is butt white with red hair making my hair glow gold and my foo man choo stash and beard is golden and brown hair, and was born june 3 1980 but I just never thought there was any half thais out there and I've only met one in my life time and I'm 31 already! I also got girl works but the funny thing is my mom left me when I was 3 months old so I never had strong confidence but was still one if the best looking guys in school getting all the chicks and for some reason I never knew I had perfect eyebrows and girl eyes and gold skin and hair till someone spotted me out and told me and made a big deal out if it. I've never cared I guess skin glows through pigment from dad and I've only ever been able to notice the crows fet and that my eyes get squinty by sun and piotr confidence kept me from seeing asl my traits apparently. Haven't had a girl in 10 years and live homeless in laguna beach, so I'm not bragging I'm just letting you know what your kids are gonna look like pretty soon... God bless the half thai nation, happa our whatever they call them in hawaii

Anonymous said...

Oh, brother! Why do they always resort to modeling/acting. If they usually come from a well to do family, is that by Thailand's standards!? Being famous in Thailand is like being famous in your closet. It's not at all impressive. Your Luk keungs' acting is a far cry from acting. If their mother is Thai; the mother usually look like maids.

Anonymous said...

Uhuh i feel ya i am half thai half dutch . Thai people peeps will always see yu as a farang

Isabelle said...

I am half-American and I grew up splitting my time between Bangkok and New York. It's true that Thai people are very adoring towards luk kreungs (as a child I remember resenting that people would walk up to me everywhere and touch my hair and my face), but I found that, at least as a girl, as I hit puberty and even now (I am 21) being half-white has limited my capability to be as thin as other Thai girls and ended up hurting my self-esteem - Briohny Smyth has a similar story.

I've found that the biggest negative to being half (and perhaps this was just because I split my time rather than spending all of it in one country) is that no matter where you are, you always feel different in some way. I will always be Thai, but in Thailand I stand out and people speak English to me when they see me. In the states, sometimes I find that there are certain cultural norms that I feel uncomfortable with, or certain Thai norms that have carried over (nodding when saying thank you, always taking off my shoes, certain American behaviors that are just beyond me and my Asian upbringing) that sometimes make me feel a little bit like an outsider. However, any negatives there may be are far outweighed by the positive of having two cultures - beyond nation, it gives you a unique place in the world and allows you to see beyond national and cultural boundaries, preparing you for a career such as that you dream for your son - I plan to get a degree in Human Rights Law and International Affairs and someday hopefully work for an organization such as Amnesty Int'l or even the UN.

If you raise your kid right, his ego won't be too inflated no matter what people say to him. And he could not be luckier, not only to have two different cultures but to have such a great dad.